The transition from ritual worship to affectionate service.

By Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj

Student: Are the Vaisnavas supposed to follow the rituals described in Sri Hari‑bhakti‑vilasa? It is important for us to follow all those rituals?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: Those who are in the lower position, the kanistha-adhikar [beginning stage], should strictly observe the rituals and formalities, but when taste (ruchi) is created, then the Bhagavata‑marga [the path given in Srimad Bhagavatam] begins: then sravan, kirtan, smaran, vandan, and so on [hearing, chanting, remembering, bowing, and so on] become principal. In that stage, there is not much stress on archan or rituals; the practitioner becomes more free as they make progress towards bhajan [service] and anuraga, love, affection, taste. When taste and affection for God is created, then the formalities of ritual are of lesser importance. But the beginners should try to strictly follow those rituals for their own good.

The path of vaidhi, vidhi-bhakti, entails rituals.

vaidha-bhakty-adhikari tu bhavavirbhavanavadhi
(Bhakti‑rasamrta‑sindhu: 1.2.292)

In Bhakti‑rasamrta‑sindhu, Srila Rupa Goswami gives this line to us: the jurisdiction of vaidhi-bhakti, regulated devotion, goes up to the stage in which our taste for the service of the Lord awakens. Avirbhavanavadhi: when our taste, our affection and attraction, for Krishna is created, then the stress on the strictness of following the rituals is lessened. Not so much stress is given on rituals in that stage, but before that taste—laulya, lobha, greed—we are to follow very strictly the rules and regulations of devotion as prescribed in the religious books. There are so many Puranas, so many smrtis and samhitas, and the Vaisnavas collected from all these texts and made Hari‑bhakti‑vilasa for the devotees.

Student: Is that the stage of bhava, Guru Maharaj? When one reaches the stage of bhava, is that when the rituals become less important?

Srila Sridhar Maharaj: When bhava arises, one is established in raga‑marg, but it is so also even before that in the stage of ruchi. First is sraddha [faith], then sadhu‑sanga [association with the sadhus], then bhajana‑kriya [service activities], then anartha‑nivrtti [elimination of obstacles], and then nistha [constancy]. Nistha means nairantarya, continuous awareness of Krishna. In nistha, there is no break; one is always thinking about Krishna and not otherwise. This is nistha, continuous remembrance of Krishna and His own. There, real taste is created, after this stage. After continued remembrance comes taste. Otherwise, in the lower position, sometimes some taste is seen to be present within us, and sometimes our mind is thrown in another way. That is not taste proper. Taste proper is to be located after nistha, nairantarya, that is, continuous recollection of Krishna. If we feel any taste within our heart at that stage, then that is bona fide taste.

From there, we can trace raga‑marg, raganuga-bhakti. There, one can depend on one’s own inner tendency and may not care much about the formalities of worship. For example, rules and regulations are necessary for a midwife taking care of another woman’s child: how she should nurse and take care of the child. But for the mother who has affection for the child, such regulations are not necessary. Out of affection, the mother will look after the child. No rules and regulations are necessary because the mother’s natural affection for the child will force her to look after the child. Formalities are necessary only for a midwife, for someone who is not taking care of her own child: she should give the child milk twice or thrice, she should do this thing and that thing—duty. When affection comes from within, then regulations are slackened. When affection, the inner awakenment of our soul, the inner affection and attraction we feel for Krishna, the Lord of our heart, arises, then the regulations are slackened.

vaidha-bhakty-adhikari tu bhavavirbhavanavadhi
(Bhakti‑rasamrta‑sindhu: 1.2.292)

As long as that inner taste for the service of Krishna does not arise, we must follow the scriptural regulations in our daily activities and worship, and thereby, we shall hope that our inner awakenment will be done and our inner taste for the service of the Lord will awaken.


Spoken 1 February 1983


vaidha-bhakty-adhikari tu bhavavirbhavanavadhi
atra sastram tatha tarkam anukulam apeksate
(Bhakti‑rasamrta‑sindhu: 1.2.292)

“Those who are situated in vaidhi-bhakti should rely on scripture and favourable reasoning until the appearance of rati.”